Senate Confirms Seven Trump Picks for the Federal Bench

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed seven of President Donald Trump’s nominees to federal district courts across the country, most by unanimous voice votes.

The one nominee who received some opposition on Tuesday was U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Goodwin, whom a majority of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated not qualified due to concerns about his work ethic.

While a minority of the committee rated Goodwin qualified, a majority found he was not qualified, citing his “frequent absence from the courthouse until mid-afternoon.”

Goodwin, who will now take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, explained he had a habit of working from his home office when he had opinions to write and no hearings scheduled because he found it “extremely beneficial” to “focus in solitude on writing.”

He said whenever he was working from his home office he had access to email, two different phones and his office schedule and that he noticed “no practical difference in accessibility” between his home office and his chambers.

Goodwin said he never heard anyone complain about his practice of working from home, but noted he stopped doing so in August 2017 after an ABA investigator asked him about his habits.

“Although I respect the right of the ABA Standing Committee to express its opinion, I was disappointed in the ABA’s process and did not find it to be thorough or fair,” Goodwin told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in response to questions submitted in writing after his confirmation hearing.

Goodwin has served as a magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma since 2013, having previously worked at the Oklahoma City firm Crowe & Dunlevy. Goodwin cleared the Senate in a 52-42 vote.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer will become the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama after earning confirmation in a unanimous voice vote in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon. Moorer is also the first black judicial nominee confirmed during the Trump administration.

Moorer worked as a federal prosecutor in Alabama from 1990 to 2007, during which time he also worked as a military judge and judge advocate in the Alabama National Guard. Moorer also served from 1981 to 1986 in the Alabama National Guard.

Moorer took a seat as a magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in 2007 and has served on the court ever since. He told Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in response to written questions submitted after his nomination hearing that he believes his experience as a magistrate judge will serve him well in his new position.

“I can say my experience as a magistrate judge has reinforced for me the importance of remembering that at the bottom of all files and cases are people and their stories,” Moorer wrote. “In other words, judges and lawyers provide their greatest service to our society when they remember the humanity of the litigants – even opposing or difficult litigants.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stan Baker received similarly strong support in the Senate, earning confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in a unanimous voice vote.

A former member of the conservative Federalist Society, Baker has served as a magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia since  2015 after spending a decade in private practice, first at the Athens, Ga., firm Prior Daniel & Wiltshire and later at The Jordan Firm in St. Simons Island, Ga.

Like Moorer, Baker said he has gained valuable experience during his time as a federal magistrate judge, specifically in learning how to treat poor or disadvantaged litigants.

“For example, in civil cases filed by pro se plaintiffs, I frequently provide plaintiffs with the opportunity to amend deficient complaints and I construe their claims and motions liberally, so that their claims can be resolved on the merits rather than dismissed out of hand,” Baker wrote to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Judge Nancy Brasel, who has served as a district court judge in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District since 2011, similarly told senators her experience on the bench will help her in her new job on a federal court.

“My experience on the state court bench in Hennepin County, which is an extremely busy urban court, includes work in the civil, criminal, juvenile delinquency and child protection arenas,” Brasel wrote to Whitehouse. “In that time, I have handled thousands of cases, the majority of which have involved citizens who are disadvantaged in some way, and I take seriously my obligation to ensure that every person in the courtroom is heard and respected equally.”

Before taking the state court bench, Brasel worked as a federal prosecutor from 2008 to 2011, having previously worked as a partner at the Minneapolis firm Greene Espel. The Senate confirmed her in a unanimous voice vote.

Longtime private practice attorney Barry Ashe also cleared the Senate on Tuesday in a unanimous voice vote. Ashe has worked at the New Orleans firm Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann since 1985, having also served in the U.S. Navy from 1978 to 1981.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Ashe faced questions from Democrats about his work representing the Tangipahoa Parish, La., Board of Education from a challenge to a disclaimer teachers had to read before teaching evolution. The disclaimer said teaching evolution in the classroom was not “meant to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of creation or any other concept,” and a federal district court struck it down as unconstitutional.

Shortly after asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, Ashe gave an interview to a newspaper in which he said there are “many scientists and others who view that evolution isn’t a proven fact.” He defended the interview when asked about it in written questions following his nomination hearing, saying his comments did not reflect his personal views, but rather the position of his client.

“It would be inconsistent with my obligations as lawyer to client under the Rules of Professional Conduct to offer my personal views on the matter,” Ashe wrote to Feinstein.

James Sweeney, another nominee the Senate unanimously approved Tuesday, also has military experience, having served in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1992. Sweeney has worked at the Indianapolis firm Barnes & Thornburg since 1999 and his practice has focused on intellectual property and other business law matters.

By far the longest wait among the nominees confirmed on Tuesday was that of U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Baxter, who was initially nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by President Barack Obama.

Obama nominated Baxter in 2015 and the Judiciary Committee approved her nomination in January 2016, but she was never confirmed. Trump nominated her again in December and the Senate confirmed her in a unanimous voice vote on Tuesday afternoon.

Baxter has served as a magistrate judge on the court since 1995, having previously worked as the court solicitor for the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County and as an associate and partner at the Washington D.C. firm Cole, Raywid & Braverman.

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